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Director :
Starring :
 Tigmanshu Dhulia, Haasil, Uday Chopra, Jimmy Shergil, Namrata Shirodkar, Hrishita Bhatt, Irfan Khan, The Heart Of Darkness,
 Uday Chopra, Jimmy Shergil, Namrata Shirodkar, Hrishita Bhatt, Irfan Khan.

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS Send to Friend

Sure, it's tough - life, and movies about life. But the trick of mastering the complex manoeuvres of life is to go against the flow.

Tigmanshu Dhulia, whose first feature film "Haasil" was an interesting but uneven look at campus unrest, now goes to the cool climes of Himachal Pradesh in search of 'charas', or hashish, cultivators and drug peddlers.

Dhulia's cinema still seethes in the simmering discontent of dislocation and maladjustment. Everyone in the film is homeless... and anxious.

The characters are the anti-archetypal misfits. In "Charas", Irfan Khan, surely one of the most powerful actors in India, plays an exiled law enforcer Rathod who has set up a charas empire in the jungles of Himachal Pradesh.

"Charas" is the story of Rathod's journey from the concrete jungle to the wilderness, from crime buster to crime lord. It's a fascinating odyssey into the heart of darkness, akin to Joseph Conrad's "The Heart Of Darkness", but far more politically vibrant in its anti-establishment message.

While Amitabh Bachchan's angry young man in the 1970s turned his back on our flawed socio-political system and fought back with mighty flamboyance, this neo-avatar of the angry young man has gone the whole hog into self-serving lawlessness.

Dense, tense inflammatory and as rebellious in mood as in content, "Charas" is Hindi cinema's first Hollywood-like thriller that doesn't copy any Hollywood films.

However, portions of the film are too self-consciously casual to impress. The whole sequence with Hrishitaa Bhatt thumbing a pillion ride with Jimmy and Uday is absurdly jaunty and romantic.

Dhulia is obviously uncomfortable on the love turf. And he should've kept the romantic escapades out of this energetic film's restless purview.

Jimmy as an Indian cop from Scotland Yard investigating the disappearance of a British boy, played by Kabir Bedi's son Adam, is as driven by impulse as the other mercurial people who infest Dhulia's famished world.
On the phone from Himachal he's the concerned grandson inquiring from his grandpa in London if the old man has had his food. In the valley of the drugs he's the roving-eyed tourist dying to get the dope-investigating journalist (Namrata Shirodkar) in bed.

The cross-cultural chaos is suitably defined by the film's restless energy. Dhulia's narration is constantly on the prowl. There're no commas or full stops in his storytelling. The unpunctuated vision is often distracting, not giving the audience the time or space to adjust to the plot's cosmopolitan cauldron of characters and locales.

Italian mafia, Afghani terrorists, the London police, local goons, politicians and goons crowd the bustling canvas, giving a freewheeling shape to the film.

The first 15 minutes after interval gets confusing for the uninitiated viewer. But thereafter the flashback showing the political disenchantment of a group of dedicated cops (Irfan Khan, Uday Chopra, Kabir Sadanand and Anoop Soni) is simply fascinating.

The shootout with Afghan terrorists in Delhi's crowded Chandni Chowk is reminiscent of John Mathew Mathan's "Sarfarosh". Dhulia has neither the budget nor the patience for Mathew's deliberately constructed plot. He moves at a zippy speed, often too fast and furious to be reflective.

Then there's the whole complex subplot about a Muslim cop, played by Uday Chopra, trying to prove his 'loyalty' to his country and profession. Mukesh Rishi had played a similar role in "Sarfarosh". Uday brings a stirring vulnerability to the role. Both he and Jimmy get a firm grip over their characters' and their erratic movements through a maze of mutating loyalties.

But the film belongs to the powerful Irfan khan. As the jungle lord he conveys cynicism, contempt, betrayal and malevolence through slight movements of lips and eyes.

In the sequence at the police function where he bursts out in drunken disillusionment, or in the way he talks down to Afghani terrorists and with his cop-colleagues, Irfan creates a character who is a law unto himself.

Namrata Shrodkar is once again underused. Both she and Hrishitaa Bhatt are fetchingly photographed by Setu who at times makes the frames too pretty to be symptomatic of the prevalent chaos and tensions of a social order on the brink.

But the whole anachronistic hippy culture, reminiscent of Dev Anand's "Hare Rama Hare Krishna", is captured in sweaty splendour. Random tourists, curious passers-by and junior artistes mingle in an artistic fusion of documentary and fiction.

Jayanta Pathak's background score is loud, expressive and precise.

Dhulia revels in tensions. He deliberately builds a swarming ambience of politics, terrorism and drugs. It's at times a commodious, unmanageable bag of motivations.

But he has a great grip over his characters and plot. Neither pop nor corn, "Charas" moves far away from the feel-good factor in our popular arts to give us a film that covers new territory, although it doesn't really hold together in one universe of intrigue and drama.

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